Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Six Flags Blogger Call II

After Six Flags' first blogger conference call this past June was deemed a success, company President and CEO, Mark Shapiro, decided to once again let us pick his brains this afternoon.

First, I must point out how wonderful it is of both Mr. Shapiro and Six Flags to hold calls like these. The ability to candidly ask questions of the CEO of a company as large as Six Flags is hard to come by. Never mind the fact that the call is just for bloggers, not even for mainstream press! My point is, many thanks to Mr. Shapiro for taking his time to speak with us - he stressed that he likes to keep the lines of communication open and he's doing a great job.

What's Been Going On
Like last time Mr. Shapiro started with an update on what's been going on in the world of Six Flags. As expected, this summer has been pretty rough for the company. Combine the debt restructuring, swine flu fears, rainy weather, and the recession and you'll get a less than desirable year for amusement park outings. While families did search for staycations this summer, the corporate side of things wasn't so hot. Corporate bookings represent one third of Six Flags' attendance, and they took a big hit in that area this summer. The months toward the end of the summer have held their own when compared to 2008, and everyone is optimistic that good weather combined with slowly improving economic conditions will make for a strong Fright Fest.

In terms of overall improvement at the parks, well, Mark had plenty of items to list. Six Flags hired more people than ever before to work at the parks, they had new rides and attractions at all the parks, including popular free concerts, and their guest satisfaction surveys remained at or above all time highs. Ride downtime was slashed, new fireworks shows debuted, they hosted special events like the FAME tour, and started using the social media networks to reach more guests. They're certainly doing something right!

If all goes well, the company could be out of the debt restructuring phase by the end of this calendar year. Plans have continued to move forward, with a major hearing on the plan scheduled for early November. Emerging from bankruptcy at the end of the year would allow Six Flags a 'clean start' to 2010.

A Watery Mess
Mark also took special time to congratulate everyone at Six Flags Over Georgia in their tremendous effort to clean the park up after it's recent flooding. An unprecedented amount of rain fell last week and flooded a great deal of the park. When the water receded, it took some 14,000 man hours to clean, inspect, and ready the park's rides and attractions for the weekend. And they did it! The park was able to open and operate as expected this past weekend - and Mark was sure to point out that that level of commitment to the parks really speaks volumes about the 'new' Six Flags of today. I agree!

Saving You Money
A major point that Mark made was that season passes for the 2010 season have been discounted like never before. He offered up many examples of the cuts that have been made, for example last year a full season pass at Six Flags Over Texas cost $84.99, this year just $59.99. Six Flags is aware that families across the country are looking for affordable fun, and they're ready to help them out with that. With the length of time spent in the park by guests up again this year, and no blackout dates listed for season passes, the company has never offered passes with this much value.

Who's That Guy?
Licensing characters came up during the call, and Mark had some interesting points to make on that front as well. First, their Mr. Six character was the most popular one with their in park photo sales. His return to the parks has been well received on all accounts. As for other characters that can been seen at Six Flags, the D.C. Comics brand should continue to thrive in the coming years. The D.C. Comics company itself is under new leadership, and they have a slew of new major films coming out starring their characters in the next couple years. As Marvel expands under Disney's ownership, D.C. will also step up and fight back - and Six Flags has the benefit of being a part of that through the theme parks. Mark will be sure that the parks take advantage where they can.

Another item to look forward to is Six Flags plans to create and market their own unique characters and content. This allows them to own them outright, and that falls down the line to merchandise, goodwill, and more, much of which helps them extend the Six Flags brand.

That said, we still won't see the end of third party licensed characters in the parks, for instance, they just renewed their license to keep Thomas the Tank Engine at the parks.

But What's New In 20**?
I'd like to pretend I'm above wondering what's new at the parks, but I'm not! Mark was kind enough to detail some of the plans they've laid out, while still keeping plenty a secret.

2010: Six Flags America will build the largest Thomas Town the company has seen, in fact, it will be the largest expansion to that park since being branded in 1999. Great America will add the Glow in the Park Parade, and Great Adventure's Hurricane Harbor the Tornado slide. Six Flags Magic Mountain will add a new "children's ride" that they will announce in November. La Ronde, as we already know, will add an inverted coaster originally from AstroWorld.

2011: Six Flags will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in style. One of the biggest additions will be the rehabilitation of the Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. The $10 million project will include what sounds like a full rebuild of the ride's track, brand new trains by Gerstlauer, magnetic brakes, more airtime, and one of the steepest "banks" of any wooden coaster. The 'new' ride will have it's work done by Rocky Mountain Amusements, a company that helped build El Toro and has worked on several industry projects. The new Texas Giant will also be a more immersive experience, as riders will now find theming as part of the ride, especially in the queue area. A farewell party for the current ride will be held at the park the weekend of October 30th.

Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom is already in the process of removing the Chang roller coaster, which will be replaced by a large water park expansion named Bonzai Beach for 2011. When I asked Mark about Chang he had an interesting response, explaining that he was always bothered by the ride, and felt it was a glaring example of what was wrong with the previous Six Flags management. You see, the ride's name was odd and didn't exemplify what the ride did or the fun you could have on it. It was just sorta slapped down without much effort and was never really a good fit for the park. When it reopens at another park (still a mystery) in 2011 (not 2010), expect it to be a whole new experience, with a distinct theme, story, colors, etc.

I'm continually impressed with Mr. Shapiro's plans for Six Flags in the coming years, as there's only good things to look forward to. As they continue to catch up with ignored maintenance of the parks from the previous owners, and add new rides and attractions, the future of Six Flags certainly does look bright. Sure, we won't be seeing massive coasters added to each park each year, but I'd take the long term survival of the company over those quick thrills any day.

Many thanks again to Mr. Shapiro for his time and I look forward to the next call!


Hu$ain said...

have a look at this video on nitro at NJ six flags.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIWlClOIRP4